September 8, 2015

7 Powerful Lessons I Learned while Backpacking Solo in India.

elyane youssef travel

I’ve been backpacking solo in India for nearly two months.

One thing I must admit: it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. Backpacking is challenging. To backpack in India however, is a double challenge. To sum it up, a journey into the unknown is a mixture of good and bad, courage and fear, happiness and melancholy. And throughout my nearly 60 days in India, I’ve experienced all.

This ongoing journey taught me lessons I wouldn’t have figured out by myself when watching TV or reading a book in my country. Although there still are many lessons to come, I thought of sharing the ones I already learnt with the world, because I believe everybody needs to know them—at least I know I did.

If only we can remember these and practice them in our daily life, I am certain that we will save ourselves plenty of suffering. Below are seven lessons that I carry it with me wherever I go:

1. Fear is the enemy.

To start with, I was terrified as soon as I started planning for this trip. My reasons back at that time were many, but when I think of them now, I clearly see how absurd they were.

Moving from Manali to Leh provided a situation that proved, to me, how fear can become our worst enemy. The highway from Manali to Leh is 479 km (which is nearly 17 hours without any delays). This highway rarely opens during the year due to the snowfall that blocks the high passes. Landslides are frequent there and the road is mostly damaged.

The first couple of hours were a living hell. I was holding a friend’s hand, humming all the mantras I know and almost crying at every difficult curve. This is what fear is capable of. Just last week I have crossed the same highway back to Manali, and this time, I was asleep the whole time; this is how relaxed I was.

Fear lives only in our minds; it is an illusion that doesn’t have a concrete existence. I could only cross that road comfortably when I believed that I was in control of my mind, and therefore, in control of my fears. I switched the image in my head from bad to good and enjoyed the blissful ride. Instead of saying to myself “look, a bad curve” and getting frustrated, I said “look, a beautifully shaped curve.”

2. Do everything with love.

I heard this notion years ago coming from a Buddhist monk. To tell you the truth, I found it tough relating. I didn’t absolutely grasp the concept of doing something with love. I mean, I do stuff during the day but I never watch how I’m doing it.

What I know now is there is a certain vibe/energy that we send whilst doing something. Let’s revisit our memories for a time when we had an accident, felt sick from a food we’d eaten, or lost the ring we just bought. Let’s remember the energy we indirectly sent to the universe before having the accident, before feeling ill and before losing the ring. The fact behind those three incidents is that we hated the car we drove, we disliked the taste of the food and regretted the ring we bought.

We mainly did all the three with hate, disgust and regret. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten food from places that aren’t considered hygienic, I can’t count the dirty sheets I have slept on and I lost count of the bad roads I have ridden on. But I did all with love. Instead of looking at the glass of tea and nag about the finger prints that imprinted there, I enjoyed its taste. Instead of worrying if the food I was having could make me feel sick, I enjoyed every bite. I learnt that doing things with love is a protective shield.

3. Don’t overthink.

This trip made me realize how much we overthink things. It’s amazing how our minds can form a whole different story/reality from what actually is.

Overthinking is nothing but worry. When we overthink, all will look hard from a distance. One month before departing, I started to worry, how will I carry a heavy backpack and walk? Will I find a place to sleep? What if I got robbed? What if I lost my passport and money and was stuck in India? What if…? What if…? My mind made up enough scenarios for a Hollywood movie.

During trip, none of what I worried about came to be. The trip was smooth and easy. To overthink is a mild disease. It creates worry which itself creates a false judgment on what we are about to experience. We should wait for the moment to come and enjoy it. It looks so much different than what we thought it would be.

4. Ask for what you want and let go.

This lesson is the most important lesson of all because in our daily lives, we refuse to believe it. I was someone who pushes things to happen. I wouldn’t sleep at night worrying about what I wanted. I wouldn’t let go—just like many people I know.

In India, I had a mental list of the places I wanted to visit. Without paying attention, I would wish to go to a certain place and then let go, as I was busy doing other things and meeting people. Before I know it, I would be put in the right place with the right people, at the right time and actually get the chance to visit the place I wanted to go to. Looking back, I can see that the instant I stopped caring about the results, everything fell into my lap.

I learnt this lesson with people also, not only with places. This is the secret: let go. Whatever we wish for will come to us in the right time.

5. When things go awry, don’t stop.

One thing is for sure during travels: things will go wrong. When I first departed, I believed that no harm could happen to me. Reality check!

One month ago while I was riding a bike, I accidentally burnt my leg with the silencer. I must say it was one big burn. The blister was quite severe and when it popped, the skin that was actually protecting the open layers of the burn was removed. As a result, my second degree burn was badly infected, with intense pain that left me unable to walk for about a week. Just last week, I fainted in the middle of the street and got carried to the hospital by people I don’t really know.

During both incidents—especially my burn—everyone was telling me to go back home. Some were warning me that my leg would be amputated if the infection wasn’t treated. Others were certain that it was a clear sign from the universe telling me to leave India. I turned a deaf ear to both people and my mind. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed the week I was stuck in in the guesthouse due to my burn, and frankly, experiencing an Indian hospital after fainting was a drastically funny experience.

Now, the burn has dried, the infection is gone and I can walk again. The lesson is, things will definitely go wrong but we mustn’t be stopped by them. Not everything is a sign and not all incidents are a mysterious message sent to us by the universe to tell us something.

6. Aloneness is pivotal.

The truth is, I couldn’t manage the first couple of weeks alone. I was scared of many things and thought I wasn’t capable of taking care of things by myself. Eventually, I adapted and luckily experienced the bliss of being alone.

To be alone for some time is pivotal. From a distance, it might seem terrifying. But once experienced, we will only crave for aloneness more. When we are alone, we do things differently. If I had someone with me 24/7 I wouldn’t have done one percent of what I did alone. I wouldn’t have the courage to do things that actually needed courage and I wouldn’t have met people I stayed with for weeks. The reason is because when we are alone, we are truly ourselves. We are not overshadowed by the opinion of others nor by their character.

To be alone teaches us responsibility, courage and independence. Before traveling, I would call to my Dad if I saw a tiny spider in my bedroom. I can say I am not the same person that set foot on the plane, and it’s because I was alone.

7. Being with people is pivotal too.

Christopher McCandless wrote before passing away in the wild alone: “Happiness only real when shared.” Just as aloneness is important, being with other souls is important too.

My journey wouldn’t have been shaped this beautifully if it wasn’t for the people I met along the way. Our happiness is never complete or real unless we share it with others. Even when I do experience things alone, I always find myself reaching out for a close friend or a family member on the phone to share my joy.

The problem is we underestimate the people around us. We think—and actually would like to believe—that we don’t need them, but in fact we do. Human connection is our goal in life; we can’t survive without it. Even if we succeed to be alone for many years, eventually we will realize that we need someone to share with.

Looking back on this trip, I don’t regret taking it. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I highly recommend everyone to break up with his routine and travel. When we travel—especially solo—we learn irreplaceable lessons.

I end this piece with the words of Robyn Davidson who went alone to the Australian outback for nine months: “The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.”

Make the first decision, and then take the first step. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Happy travels!




Relephant Read:

How to Travel: The Ultimate List of Tips from Friends who Know.


Author: Elyane Youssef

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s own, Credit: Eeshit Narain

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